Welcome to my second newsletter. There is a theme of ice, rocks, snow and water in everything but the updates. It was not intentional – it just happened that way. So wrap up warm and enjoy some extreme activities from the comfort of your chair.
I must not forget my evacuees, who also get plenty of attention on a daily basis. The interviews are complete and most of the reading I wanted to do for the book has been done, so now comes the job of turning a conflation of papers into a narrative. It is the part of the book I enjoy most, in some ways, but it is also difficult and requires plenty of quiet, and a clear space in my head.
My husband, Chris, and I went to the screening in Soho on a rainy afternoon in early November (Friday 13th to be precise). There were half a dozen people in a theatre with seats for perhaps twenty and we all sat, mesmerised by the awe-inspiring shots of Mount Everest taken in 2007 and blended with panoramic images from the 1920s. The film is a drama documentary-cum-reconstruction of the last climb of George Mallory and Sandy Irvine.
There is something slightly unnerving about seeing yourself on a cinema screen and I had not realised how much detail you see in high definition film. Every wrinkle, every whisker of hair out of place. Chris tells me he was unable to take his eyes off the nicotine-stained teeth of one of the interviewees but I found it most uncomfortable when there were close-up shots of the reconstruction of Mallory’s frozen corpse.
The film is due to be released in the States by National Geographic, who have also bought world-wide IMAX rights. I believe the UK and European rights are still under negotiation. Although National Geographic were relaxed about showing the corpse reconstruction, they balked at a tale I told of Sandy’s prowess. So here it is, published in full for the first time:
Still, The Wildest Dream is certainly worth watching if you are interested in the Mallory and Irvine story and the reconstruction of the last climb is beautifully choreographed and filmed. You can almost believe they made it to the top of the world. A wild dream indeed.
I know. It’s insane. But it is the greatest possible fun. One of my fellow Quadesses was heard to gasp after a session: ‘How can anything so addictive be good for you?’ As I write this newsletter I am sitting up in bed at a friend’s house in Putney (she fed me the obligatory pre-race pasta dinner last night – thank you Rebecca) waiting to go and meet the crew. Today we are going to race in the Veterans’ Fours Head, a race of 6.84km (4½ miles) rowed with the tide from Mortlake to Putney. Sound familiar? Well, Sandy Irvine rowed it in 1923 in an eight, only in the other direction, when he sat in the three seat for the dark blues in the Boat Race. That year Oxford won by ¾ length. I am not so sure we will be winning today but the Quadess crew will be giving it everything we have. And tomorrow I shall be back at my desk writing about the architecture of the Great War.
‘Every picture tells a story’ is such an old cliché that I hesitate to use it here. However, when it comes to illustrating non-fiction, photographs can be extremely revealing. Well used and thoughtfully captioned photographs can enhance understanding of a topic but all too often books contain pictures that are either poor quality reproductions or badly explained, so that there is no rhyme or reason for them being included. I feel strongly that photographs have to earn their place in books and that the author then has a duty to ensure that they are appropriately captioned.
One of the most powerful photographs I have ever used is of The Endurance. On the face of it this picture is of Shackleton’s ship sinking into the ice of the Weddell Sea in November 1915.
I realise this newsletter deals with a world of snow, ice, rock and water but actually it is the human beings who function in this world who I wish to celebrate here. I hope you have enjoyed reading about them. Especially Marjory.
12 November, Oxford
And if I am permitted a brief post-script, the Quadesses triumphed on the Tideway finishing third in their division – far higher than anyone had expected. I have greater respect than ever for the oarsmen in my family.